This concept was popularized in the 1980s by Charles Poliquin. It basically states that in order for our bodies to perform optimally, and with less injury and pain…we should be pursuing a type of harmony within the size, strength, and weight distribution of our body.
To help illustrate this, let’s look at some examples of how we can be OUT of balance:
The most common and pertinent application for me and what I’m seeing in my work…is bodies that are top-heavy. This means a body is loaded with weight above the belt, without sufficient building of connective tissues and strength below the belt. This is just asking for foot, knee, and hip pain and problems. This is where building from the ground up is crucial.
Another example would be an athlete who has a very strong posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes, etc.), but is very weak in front (anterior chain) with their tibialis, quads, and hips. This could pose problems for deceleration, approaching a jump, etc. or lead to shin splints and knee pain. We’re basically creating a body here that can’t absorb all of the force created by its own self.
If we build up a ton of muscle tissue, but don’t develop the tendons and ligaments along the way, we are asking for joint issues, tears, pain, etc.
It’s been very popular to train what’s called Triple Extension. ‘Triple’ is connected to extending the foot, knees, and hips. Think of being in a squat position and then jumping up into the air. Most athletes tend to train these movements separately. We could use a calf raise, a leg extension machine for the knee, and a squat or good morning for the hips. BUT, what about Triple ‘Flexion’? We rarely hear of athletes focusing on this…or at least focusing on it as much as on Triple extension. Triple flexion would be tibialis raise for the shin area, a nordic curl for the back of the knee and hamstring, and a reverse squat where we pull our knees up to our chest. What if we hooked our feet up to a cable and weight stack, and actually measured how much we could lift by pulling those knees to chest? It’s not to say ‘don’t squat’. It’s simply to say let’s also give incredible focus to reverse squatting. Athletes find when they do this, their legs feel so much lighter, instead of that heavy footed feel. Triple extension AND triple flexion leads to structural balance.
If we can push really well with chest and triceps, but can’t pull for crap with back and biceps, we aren’t structurally balanced.
If a softball pitcher or baseball player throws hundreds of times with one arm every week, but can’t effectively and safely slow that arm down with external rotation strength, they aren’t structurally balanced. On top of that, one side of their body is developing differently than the other, which can certainly lead to pain or injury.
Lastly, I’ll consider another issue with knees because that is my weakness. If we develop the outer quad muscles (vastus lateralis), but don’t address the inner VMO (vastus medialis) muscle, we are manufacturing and asking for knee issues. The VMO is rarely trained, but is most correlated with a stable and more pain-free knee. Therefore, leaving it out leaves us out of structural balance.
Well, how do we get structurally balanced then, one might ask? We seek out the weak links by trying a few exercises. It doesn’t take long at all! Then, we use our bodyweight, and our main lifts to calculate some ‘Standards’ for all of the other lifts. This lets us know where we stand, and what we should be at least pursuing. Without this information, a young athlete may just think more, more, more is the answer, but then blow out his knee or shoulder because of a clear weakness our imbalance in a noticeable area.
Now…we MUST say that even the most structurally balanced human could go out, play their sport, or do the activities within their day, and STILL get injured. This isn’t perfection that we’re striving for. Life is hard. Sports are dynamic. There are many unpredictables along the way. But a wise investment, putting money in the bank to make ourselves much more resilient, goes a long way in preventing a good amount of pain and suffering.
If you’re thinking you may be structurally ‘imbalanced’ in some way…if you’re in pain…if it hurts to play your sport…I’d love to have a conversation with you to see if I can provide value and get you on the right track.